ASHLAND — The Southern Boone County Fire Protection District plans to request $391,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from Boone County this spring.

Southern Boone County Fire Protection District deputy chief Colin Wright spoke at tonight's Boone County Commission Community Information and Listening Sessions meeting at the Southern Boone School District headquarters, highlighting the need to adjust to rising costs for fire trucks previously ordered in 2020. 

The mostly volunteer department passed a $2.1 million bond issue prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to cover the cost of two tankers, an engine and a squad. However, not only have those trucks not arrived three years later. The signed contract allows the supplier to raise prices up until the shipping date.

"Throughout this process, we've been slowly having to wane back," Wright said. "All of a sudden, you cut the quality of the tankers. All of a sudden, maybe we are buying two cheaper tankers, an engine and maybe a squad. And now it's like, okay, maybe we'll cut the squad, see if we get the self-contained breathing apparatuses, and then purchase either another engine or a squad."

Wright said the requested ARPA funds would allow the district to purchase self-contained breathing apparatuses, which firefighters use to provide breathable air when fighting fires in dangerous atmospheres.

"It's just one of those things where we're really having trouble getting equipment, having trouble finding out what we're going to get, and at that, the fire trucks still aren't here," Wright said. "So, it's one of these things that we're really hoping that somehow the county commission can come through with this money, because if they came through with this $391,000 we've requested for SCBAs, buying the fire trucks with all the equipment we ever wanted would be no sweat."

The Southern Boone County Fire Protection District's self-contained breathing apparatuses no longer match the updated equipment that is used by Boone County Fire and Columbia Fire. That means that Southern Boone cannot share breathable gas bottles with its two larger county firefighting partners, preventing them from being able to gradually upgrade its SCBAs.

"They upgraded to a new style of pack, same manufacturer, new style," Wright said. "Their bottles will not attach to our packs. We're a small fire district, and we interact with Boone County and Columbia Fire all the time, both giving and receiving mutual aid.

"When all of a sudden we found out we could no longer exchange air bottles with them, it's pretty detrimental to us on a call... these bottles are used for everything from structural firefighting to hazardous materials to even biological incidents."

Wright said updated breathing equipment is vital for the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District to serve its growing community.

"This fire district is growing fast," Wright said, "We're in a difficult time because Ashland's growing, the community's growing, we have a volunteer fire department. We have a paid chief and a paid assistant chief. The major impact will just be that we won't be able to expand the services as much as we wanted to."

Wright said the Southern Boone County Fire Protection District is hoping to upgrade its original station in Hartsburg, which hasn't seen any upgrades since it was built in 1982. However, even without funding, he said they'll continue providing the best firefighting services possible.

"We will find a way, but it's going to be hard," Wright said. "We're only operating on about $900,000 per year, which having five fire stations, a training center and all of that, it doesn't go that far when you look at how much it costs to heat and fuel these trucks."

If the funds request is approved, it would be the first time the district has received a federal allocation of funding. It increased its tax allocation for the first time three years ago.

Two local farmers, Adam Saunders and McKinley Worley, advocated for funding operations at the Columbia Farmers Market to provide services for those affected by food insecurity. Both praised previous efforts that brought a roof to the market pavilion, provided EBT/SNAP exchanges for consumers and expanded a connected educational farm operated by the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

"In our proposal is a request to support the last piece of our puzzle," Saunders said, "which is a multi-purpose teaching kitchen. [It would be] a resource center for home gardeners and to teach cooking skills. We would use that kitchen to cook some of the food that we grow and donate, cook it for meals ready to eat with beans and rice and try to reach people that we're not currently reaching who are struggling with food insecurity."

Saunders said producers at the Farmers Market donated over 49,000 pounds of food last year to The Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri.

The Boone County Commission will hold three more meetings before consulting with a group of Boone County stakeholders to allocate up to $15 million by this summer. The application deadline for the first round of funding is set for 5 p.m. on Friday, March 31, 2023, and information on applications can be found on the county website.

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